Sunday, June 28, 2015

At Omakase, Leave it to the Chef and Enter Sushi Heaven

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

 
Omakase-style meals in traditional Japanese restaurants consist of dishes selected by the chef – from their ingredients to their sequence. No matter what you think about letting a stranger decide on your sacred dinner choices, at the new San Francisco sushi bar Omakase it would be better to throw away all caution and let yourself be awashed in sheer bliss of Chef Jackson Yu’s inspired cuisine.

The minimalist facility with only 14 seats, all facing the bar, and the sparse décor of cedar, bamboo, and artisanal pottery serve as a clean and simple framing for the fine art of sushi-making with the highest quality seafood flown in three times a week from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market.   

Metal and ceramic dinnerware at Omakase is mostly custom-made, and if you choose the light and fruity Nishida “Kikuizumi” sake to accompany your multi-course dinner, it will be served on a bowl of ice in a hand-made cut crystal sake set of the bluest blue.


A salad of seasonal vegetables topped with green herring row with snow crab, lobster, and seaweed, and a side of tamari sushi ball with a slice of fresh ginger makes a great starter.

It can be followed by a tender uni (sea urchin) cake with seaweed and micro greens.
Then the main act of the magic show begins.

For a sashimi plate Chef Jackson starts with grating fresh wasabi root until it turns into a creamy bright-green condiment we all know and [some of us] love. He places Japanese ika (squid) in its own tiny glazed ceramic bowl with a slice of lemon, a few droplets of salmon roe, and a tiny speck of 24K gold leaf for added effect.  

Next to the tiny bowl of ika, on an elongated silvery plate you can find ruby cubes of maguro, squares of blue fin tuna, and some meaty pieces of lighter pink shimaji, interspersed with radish slices and shavings, micro greens, shaved carrot, and sharp-edged Japanese mint leaf. House-made soy sauce is poured in a little golden bowl on a side.

The chef gladly explains that fish colors in sushi tend to progress from lighter to brighter ones, and that to prepare a filet of squid the right way it is necessary to make 27 tiny cuts on each side of it with a sharp knife.

 Next course – nigiri sushi – is served on a traditional rectangular plate called “arita” decorated in one of the four traditional design patterns. The plate remains on a bar between the working chef and the diner who is supposed to take each newly formed piece with his fingers and consume immediately. A hot towel is placed in front of him for in-between finger cleaning.   

Young sea brim, Hokkaido scallop, Spanish mackerel (torched to sear the tight thin skin), fatty tuna, Copper River salmon, and other delectable morsels appear one by one on a plate – all fresh, tempting and variously delicious.   

A little dish of striped bass in shoyu marinade can be served sometime in-between nigiri – grilled with crispy skin on a bed of English pea sauce.  

Another in-between plate might contain monk fish liver cooked with soy, mirin sake, and ginger, and garnished with shaved celery.

Yet another one – little wooden spoons with ikura and uni over a ball of fluffy rice.

While creating a perfectly folded hand roll of fatty tuna and ikura, Chef Jackson explains that the two outer corners of a nori leaf must coincide perfectly – and of course they do. 

 After the hand roll comes the final dish – Manila clam soup, which might seem like a strange choice for a finale, but by then no one would question the Chef’s order. Top to bottom, it’s a perfect meal. 

Since the menu is based on many variables, it’s hard to predict what will be served tomorrow or a month from now. One thing is certain – a meal at Omakase is a festive and memorable event in a very sensory sense.
Just opened by restaurateur Kash Feng in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, the restaurant offers three pricing options: $100, $150, and $200. Based on what they spend, guests are served a series of chef-chosen items.

Chef Yu, 36 years old, has been preparing Japanese cuisine since he was a teenager and has trained with well-known Japanese chefs. From premier restaurants in the Bay Area, to Ginza in Japan, he has become known for his impeccable knife skills. Working with Chef Yu are chefs Ingi Son, with 17 years of experience at restaurants from New York to Las Vegas and Napa, and Yoshihito Yoshimoto, a native of Osaka who has been in the restaurant business for 37 years at venues from coast to coast including Hawaii.
Omakase, located at 665 Townsend Street, San Francisco, California, is open for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. For reservations, which are recommended, or for more information, call (415) 865-0633 or visit, www.omakasesf.com.

Palm House’s Chef Plays with Your Food, and Wins!

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

 
We’ve been watching the chef-drain from San Francisco to Oakland and other Bay Area places for sometimes now, but trends can be reversed. Take an Oakland native, Chef Chris Ricketts formerly of The Tipsy Pig, who’s been educated in classic French cuisine and trained in the best New American restaurants in Napa and the East Bay.

Now a resident of San Francisco, he’s positively at home at the Palm House Restaurant in Cow Hollow, where he combines tropical meat and fish preparations, fruit, and spices with California-fresh seasonal greens and locally sourced grains and vegetables.

Opened just a year ago, the Palm House (named after an ancient palm tree towering over its bungalow-style multi-room facility) concentrates on Caribbean cuisine with influences from Cuba, Brazil, and Hawaii, and it probably helps that the recently hired new Chef Chris’s parents reside in Kona, HI.
Macadamia nuts, pineapple, papaya, mahi-mahi and kalua pork make frequent appearances on the menu as well as yucca, taro and plantains; an array of hot peppers; ginger and nori; and our local fish and game, green peas, watercress, and corn.

Chef Chris works closely with the Bar Manager Duncan Wedderburn on pairing his inspired dishes with the innovative cocktail that leave the restaurant regulars begging for more. The creative duo freely incorporates tropical flavors in both the food and the libations – to wonderful results.

“We like messing around, trying new combinations of ingredients,” says Ricketts. “And it works out.”

Indeed, it does.

I can name at least two amazing starter cocktails – Old Cuban (Brugal Añejo rum, champagne, lime, mint) and Chipotle Mango Margarita (lime, agave), and at least two equally amazing appetizers – Salmon lomi-lomi (Maui pineapple, tomato, sweet onion, serrano) with taro root chips) and Kalua pork shoulder with curried black beans and roti flatbread studded with pickled jalapeños.

Succulent Macadamia Crusted Duck Breast with plantain purée, duck skin cracklings, watercress and mojito oil is just one of the outstandingly well-constructed mains.

The other is a perfectly medium-rare chimichurri-marinated hanger steak with roasted fingerling potatoes, sweet corn, shishito peppers, and grilled asparagus.

Dessert-like summertime cocktails include Palmade (vodka, lemonade, muddled raspberries) and Piña Colada served in a coconut shell with an edible orchid on top.

Not that the real dessert menu isn’t bursting with various delights. Valrhona chocolate pot de crème is definitely a must with toasted coconut, vanilla, and house-made coconut-cashew brittle.  

One of the Bar Manager’s latest creations, the Commodore cocktail can be successfully consumed before, during, or after dinner at Palm House. It’s a handsome and tasty drink of rosemary-infused gin, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, lemon juice, and the rare blood peach puree, hunted down at the peak of the season.


“In a tropics-themed bar it’s important to have rum-based cocktails,” says Wedderburn, “but I want to utilize all the spirits that appeal to different palates. We use seasonal ingredients in our cocktails; order fresh fruit, make compotes and marmalades ourselves.” Working together, the kitchen and the bar definitely hit the highest mark in their pursuit of perfection.  

The tropics-inspired Palm House design incorporates dark wood, ceiling fans, solid tree trunk communal table, window shutters, Caribbean plants, and a collection of brightly-colored vintage birdcages hung from the 35-foot ceiling under a skylight.

The restaurant seats 130 in the main dining room, adjacent smaller and cozier spaces, at the bar and on the heated patio. A private room, called the Captain's Quarters, can accommodate 12.


Palm House is located at 2032 Union Street, San Francisco, California, and is open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.. For more information call (515) 400-4355 or visit www.palmhousesf.com.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Washington Wines Attack The Cavalier

By Emma Krasov

 
In a good way, of course…  Some surprisingly pleasurable white and rosé wines – so refreshing, so crisp, so smooth; so suitable for summertime – gently invaded the pride and joy of San Francisco restaurant scene, The Cavalier (executive chef Jennifer Puccio), at the beginning of this week.

Presented by a distinguished Washington winemaker, Kit A. Singh of Lauren Ashton Cellars, these chardonnays and Provence-style rosés – light, fruity, and aromatic – were paired with The Cavalier’s impeccably presented food offerings.

To begin, the guests of Visit Seattle and Washington State Wine were treated to Woodward Canyon Estate 2014 sauvignon blanc. The Cavalier kitchen, true to its egg-centric character, responded with Quail Egg Mayonnaise (celery, celery salt, crispy shallot); Hen Egg Hollandaise (ham and cheese soldiers); Lamb Scrumpets (pickled mint and chili) and Roasted Tomato and Aubergine Crostini (feta and micro greens).
For an appetizer, The Cavalier came up with The Cavalier Salad (frisee, peas, radish, goat cheese and truffled vinaigrette). This amazing salad found its true match (or four) in delectable Washington wines –Three Rivers Winery Steel 2013 chardonnay; Chateau Ste. Michelle Mimi 2013 chardonnay; Gard Grand Klasse Reserve 2014 rosé,l and Lauren Ashton 2014 rosé.
This reporter’s entrée of Roasted Breast of Chicken (broiled aubergine, tomatoes, herbed feta and cress) was best complimented by Lauren Ashton 2013 roussanne, just released by the winery last weekend.
A scrumptious dessert of Goat Cheese Torte was successfully paired with Dunham Lewis Vineyard 2013 Riesling, and Efeste Evergreen 2013 Riesling.   
The dinner attendees have learnt that Washington State has 13 AVAs, more than 850 licensed wineries, is the second largest wine-producing region in the USA, and plants more than 40 grape varieties led by Riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and Syrah.
To learn more, go to www.washingtonwine.org.

Reverb Kitchen & Bar: Bursting with Flavor

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
 

Russian Hill and wider San Francisco food and drink aficionados,
Remember Verbena?
It’s now Reverb.

Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster – founders and co-owners of news-making restaurants Gather (Berkeley) Verbena, and Reverb (San Francisco) – take minor pains to explain their choice of word for the new restaurant in the former Verbena’s space, “re-verb: 1) Resonance through feedback. 2) The second note of an expression, action or state of being. 3) An homage to Verbena.”  
Like in a game of Scramble, the letters changed places, but the root of the matter stays – it’s the verb, and this verb is most likely, “to amaze.” The first note of an expression, namely Verbena, was simply spectacular, and so I’ve met the news of the Reverb Kitchen & Bar opening with slight apprehension.

It dissolved without a trace as soon as I’ve found out that the new restaurant on upper Polk Street is led by Executive Chef Ryan Shelton.
I’ve met this chef and experienced his memorable creations before – first at the micro gastronomy staple Baumé, which earned two Michelin stars during Chef Ryan’s tenure there, and lately – at Palo Alto Grill, where he worked his magic with jewel-like fish crudo, and grilled to perfection filet mignons and lamb chops.
Aided by his gorgeous fiancée – the restaurant’s General Manager Madison Fraser, who also supervises the drink program – the Chef puts on the table rooted in the American tradition, yet innovative and highly satisfying dishes made with sustainable, peak-of-the-season ingredients sourced from the best Northern California farmers.   

To complement the amazing food, Lead Bartender Rachel Leiderman makes craft cocktails with fresh berries and herbs, and pours small-production wines and artisanal beer.

Louisville Fog is actually a sunny-yellow concoction of bourbon, house made earl grey syrup, lemon, and bitters.

Polk St. Pimms is a bright-orange refreshing combination of Pimms No. 1, vodka, limoncello, lemon, house made strawberry syrup, and ginger beer.  

On the Small Plates section of the menu, Charcuterie, served on a beautiful wooden board, consists of Reverb’s own beef tongue pastrami and chicken liver mousse, Bellwether carmody cheese, seasonal strawberry-rhubarb mostarda, crushed almonds, and grilled toast.

Among the Farm & Garden plates, Asparagus Soup stands out (at least for the season). This hot soup is poured table-side into a diner’s plate with lemon-coconut ice cream and shaved grilled asparagus.

Large Plates menu opens with Cavatelli – a beautiful dish of tender green pasta made with English pea juice, and garnished with lemon mascarpone and prosciutto.

This plate’s prevailing colors of light green, pink, and white are mirrored in Monk of Guadalajara cocktail, made with tequila blanco, St. Germain, yellow Chartreuse, lime, and crushed fresh blackberry.

The Mains’ most popular dish is Fried Chicken & Amaranth Waffle, served in a bright ceramic bowl and garnished with charred greens, house-pickled vegetables, and butterscotch apple maple sauce on a side.

Desserts at Reverb, also prepared by Chef Ryan, are predictably creative and… addictive.

Kumquat Chocolate Tart with almond cream and matcha sherbet (just added to the menu) is an elegant creation, equally pleasing for chocolate and fruit desert lovers.

Brioche Doughnuts with cinnamon sugar and passion-nectarine compote on a bed of house made ricotta are so delicious – no matter how full one feels – they disappear fast.   

The redesigned space of Reverb is the work of Abueg Morris Architects. Decor highlights include a new art wall of “reverberating” reclaimed woods.

Reverb Kitchen & Bar is located at 2323 Polk Street, San Francisco, California. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner (5:30 to 10:00 p.m.), Saturday brunch (10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), and Sunday all-day brunch (10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.) Call for reservations (415) 441-2323 or visit www.reverbsf.com.